The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of January: Our Top 5 Picks

Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of January - Amazon Book ReviewFrom fantastical folklore to genetic engineering, January brings a wealth of new fantasy and science fiction from veterans and newcomers alike. Here are our favorite five, beginning with Katherine Arden's enchanting The Bear and the Nightingale, which also gained a top spot among Amazon's overall Best Books of the Month.

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden - There's a small but mighty space where fantasy and literary fiction can clasp hands and create a brilliant story that resonates in the soul. The Bear and the Nightingale lives squarely in that space, and those who dare to visit this novel will leave entranced. Set in the fourteenth century in the bitter north, a two-week ride from the rough city of Moscow, this mesmerizing tale centers on Vasya Petronova, a girl who barely survives birth (her mother doesn't) and grows up with a secret affinity for the sprites and demons that live in and around her village. "A wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission" is how her father imagines her, and he's not wrong. As her family tries to harness her into the typical domestic life of a young noblewoman, Vasya spends more and more time among the sprites and soon gets caught between two old and powerful gods struggling for domination over her part of the world. Arden's debut novel builds like a thunderstorm, with far-off disquieting rumblings that escalate into a clash between sprites and humans, ancient religions and new, honor and ambition. And while I think there are only a dozen or so novels in this world that have a perfect ending, I would put The Bear and the Nightingale high on that list. Perfect for those who enjoyed Naomi Novik's Uprooted.

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Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth - Roth (The Divergent Trilogy) starts with a slow build as she paints a full portrait of two warring civilizations who are unfortunate enough to share the same planet. The kidnapping of two boys from the Thuvhe and their enslavement to the leader of the Shotet sets up the conflict yet also the opportunities for alignment. Akos (kidnappee) and Cyra (sister of kidnapper) find common ground in their hatred of Cyra's brother and their desire to escape his tyranny. Roth's strengths, as demonstrated in Divergent, lie in her world building and her nuanced teasing out of budding relationships. My quibble with Carve the Mark is that too much of the world building happens upfront, clogging up the pacing. But once you get past that, the story rockets along as Akos and Cyra try to figure out whether their shared goals also mean shared trust.

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Fate of Perfection by K.F. Breene - Set in the undetermined future, when most humans are fashioned in labs and everyone is born into and works for a corporation, Millicent is chosen to be part of a "natural born" experiment in which highly skilled women carry their babies to term in the expectation that the children will develop enhanced mental abilities (kinda like Jedi). While this sounds like the setup for another The Handmaid's Tale, it's really the trigger for weapons-designer Millicent and her nemesis/ally Ryker to go on the run with Millicent's child and blow up a bunch of things in the process. While Ryker is badass in a multitude of ways, Millicent is the one in the driver's seat as they try to escape the corporations...and uncover a few interesting things about Millicent's own family background in the process. Marvelous mayhem ensues. Book two in this series releases in April 2017.

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The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman - We reunite with Librarian/adventurer/spy Irene and her dragon apprentice Kai in Cogman's third Invisible Library novel just as signs point to the return of Alberich, who has vowed to destroy the Library. And it appears he might have help on the inside to make it happen. Dragons, Fae, politicking Librarians, and a gentleman who holds a certain resemblance to the World's Greatest Detective help and hinder Irene as she inadvertently becomes the focus of Alberich's interest. Irene's stiff upper lip, fluid fighting abilities, and sharp intelligence make her the only one who has even a whiff of a chance of shutting Alberich down. If only she could be sure she won't get a knife in the back.... As in the previous novels, Irene's understated wit and derring-do in the face of steep odds and mercurial allies makes her a compelling protagonist no matter which of the worlds she travels to in her scope as a Librarian. Cogman has earned a wealth of acclaim for her Invisible Library series, so if you haven't started it yet, you have a marvelous read ahead of you. I'm already looking forward to book four, The Lost Plot.

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Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi - "Very short" is the truth in this case; Scalzi says in the introduction that the longest story in this collection of short fiction is 2,296 words (including the title). Those who read Scalzi's blog or follow his Twitter feed already know that this guy can write zingers like few can. Those who are not such close watchers of Scalzi's daily writings will find a similar epiphany here. Ranging all over the map of the imagination and format, Minatures includes a few original pieces among previously published works, giving readers an intriguing glimpse into Scalzi's mind and his creative development through the years as a SF writer. Plus, there's no such thing as too much Scalzi, and this is an excellent way to get through the long days until his next novel, The Collapsing Empire, hits shelves in March.


Also among this month's best are Death's Mistress, a new series-starter from Terry Goodkind featuring Nicci from his Sword of Truth books; Daniel José Older's latest addition to his Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series; and Karen Marie Moning's Feversong, the conclusion to her Fever saga.

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